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Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, City Council ignore HIV, AIDS

Mayor Robert Garcia

Mayor Robert Garcia, center, snubbed a World AIDS Day event in Long Beach to appear in the Belmont Shore Christmas Parade. Garcia’s absence at the event is another example of him ignoring the city’s HIV problem and its impact on the gay community. Photo: Twitter.

Editorial

LONG BEACH — Mayor Robert Garcia was all smiles. He was decked out in a Christmas sweater and waved to the people who lined Second Street for the Belmont Shore Christmas Parade.

Numerous city council members (including Lena Gonzalez, Suzie Price, Daryl Supernaw, Al Austin, Rex Richardson, Roberto Uranga, and Dee Andrews) also traveled the parade route and enjoyed the merriment. Council members Jeannine Pearce and Stacy Mungo didn’t attend the parade.

IGNORING WORLD AIDS DAY

Approximately two miles away, a less festive event was under way — the annual candlelight vigil at Bluff Park on Ocean Boulevard that commemorates World AIDS Day, which raises awareness of the AIDS pandemic and allows people to mourn loved ones who have died from the disease.

During the emotional gathering, many people cried as the names of 24 people who died from AIDS complications in 2018  were read aloud. The people who passed away were clients at the CARE Program at St. Mary Medical Center, the region’s largest HIV prevention and treatment program.

Not only did Garcia — who identifies as gay — and all nine council members snub this poignant and important event, but they also failed to make any mention of World AIDS Day on social media. It’s not like the occasion is new; it’s been an annual event since 1988.

LACK OF LEADERSHIP

Garcia and the council’s silence showed how out of touch they are regarding the needs of the LGBTQ community. In Long Beach, more than 90 percent of HIV occurs among gay men, according to the most recent Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services HIV report.

Garcia and the city council, who like to talk about the LGBTQ community when it benefits them, have failed to provide any leadership on reducing HIV infections in the gay community.

NO STRATEGIC PLAN

Any of them could have taken World AIDS Day as an opportunity to announce a strategic plan that would offer a solution to lowering the city’s high HIV infection rate in the gay community.

A frightening fact — Long Beach’s HIV infection rate is larger than Los Angeles County and the state, according to city health department data.

By the way, that strategic plan nobody has discussed is long overdue and desperately needed.

COMIC BOOKS A PRIORITY

On December 2, the day after World AIDS Day, Garcia was busy on social media — not apologizing for being silent on HIV, but saying how excited he was to see a new movie based on a comic book superhero.

Garcia has spent more time on social media talking about his love for comic books and superheroes than he has addressing HIV/AIDS, which wouldn’t be difficult considering he has never offered any ideas on how to combat Long Beach’s dilemma. Just imagine how much work could be accomplished if he spent less time on social media talking about comic books and was committed to solving the city’s HIV problem.

MORE SILENCE

Garcia isn’t alone in his lack of leadership.

The city’s highest concentration of HIV cases is located in the 90802 zip code, the 2nd District, which Pearce represents. Her lack of action is a perfect example of how she has failed her constituents, but it’s not the first time. In October, Pearce refused to help or listen to small business owners along the Broadway Corridor who worried that a construction project would harm their livelihoods.

The city’s second highest concentration of HIV cases is located in the 90813 zip code, the 1st District, which Gonzalez represents. She, too, has remained silent on the issue.

JUST SAY NO

Of course, when any of these elected, public servants crave money, they have no problem asking LGBTQ voters for campaign donations.

On December 3, Garcia sent an email asking people to attend a fundraiser that would help him erase financial debt from a previous campaign.

Of course, he still made no mention about tackling HIV or World AIDS Day.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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